Hence this presentation from Sri Lanka where Pali Buddhist texts were committed to writing as far back as the first century A.D. These Pali texts also preserve what is generally known as the Theravada tradition as against the Mahayana of the Sanskrit texts. As source books for Buddhist studies, they have a better claim to historical antiquity and authenticity.
In this series we plan to present brief studies on the basic concepts of early Buddhism. We begin with man and the world in which he lives. Drawing on the wisdom of ancient India, the Buddha starts at a relevant point in evolution of man. As the Buddha or the Enlightened One, he is more clear and specific in his analyses, and assessments and in his answers to meaningful questions put to him. Our fortnightly studies center on them. Studies in this series are presently provided by Bhikkhu Dhammavihari.
Gotama as Buddha-aspirant was prompted into his spiritual quest through an awareness of the down to earth problem of human unhappiness in decay, disease and death in the world. As he probed into it, he found both its cause and its solution in the very nature of man. The solution lay in the self-discipline, self-adjustment and self-correction of the humans when placed in these different vicissitudes. On the strength of his analysis of the problems and the solutions offered, Gotama has become pre-eminent in the world of thinkers.
2. Transcendence - Passage from human
Life of humans on earth being viewed as unsatisfactory on account of its very nature of incessant change and the invariable frustration these changes bring about, Buddhism offers in Nirvana a plane beyond such disturbances. Having reached that stage in this very life, human vision has changed its direction and found itself a new alignment. Therein lies the much coveted state of composure [santi / nibbuti ] of Nirvana, while still being human and being in this world. This is what Buddhism offers in its passage from human to divine.
3 Neither grace nor aid from elsewhere.
Whatever the state in which humans find themselves in the world today, Buddhism upholds the view that it is the outcome of a long process of evolution which stretches through time and space. Each single individual in the world is the product of his own distinct creation. Buddhism does not concede power to a supreme divinity, besides man, who either provides succour to helpless worldlings or control and guide their destinies. Salvation out of this world's misery lies in the hands of every single individual, each one bringing it about himself.
4 The universe and man therein.
The Buddhists, together with the Indians, centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, were acquainted with a theory of evolution of the universe [vivattamâne kappe] seemingly very similar to the Big Bang theory. Humans within it, override the considerations of time and space.
5 Development : moral and psychic.
Nurture and growth of man is viewed in Buddhism, relative to the goal of his choice. With the rejection of an external intermediary, the choice lies with the culture up to a transcendental level of one's own human personality [variously referred to as citta, mano etc.] in the right specified direction.
6 Reality of life : in single or multiple spans.
Life is what we see in action in the world, of humans, animals and to some extent even of plants. Presence of bare sensitivity and sentiency as is sometimes attributed to the plant world, is reckoned in Buddhism as a primary or elementary level of life [Buddhist texts referring to them as mono-sensory or uni-sensory life = ekindriyam pânam]. Animals cognize to a further degree and are said also to react with their built-in reflexes. Humans have the power of reason and judgement [manassa ussannatâya manussâ], and are therefore placed at the highest level of life in the universe. Humans are said to gather life-generative momentum [upâdâna] in their very process of living, here and now. By multiple spans we mean the repitition of births and deaths of the humans.
7 What propels this life process of humans..
In Buddhism, life of humans on earth is viewed as a single phase of a long and continuous process of living, stretching through time and space. It is assumed that it has had an incalculable past. For each one of us, it is a process of built-in self-generation.
The past is real as having generated the present. The present existence, with its multiple relations with the world we live in, shall generate enough momentum to push it further to another, until and unless we arrest this generative process by careful handling of our reactions and responses to the sensory stimuli we get from the world we live in.
In our day-to-day living process, we charge our physical bodies with
psychical activity which is continually generated through our sensory reaction
to external stimuli of the world. This process which includes within it
both being attracted to and repelled
by our likes and dislikes is called 'grasping' or upâdâna. Buddhism's goal of Nirvana being the complete arrest and termination of this continuous life process, Buddhism's spiritual culture aims at the correction of this process of grasping.
8 Genesis of Human Unhappiness or Dukkha.
Dukkha or human unhappiness is explained in Buddhism as primarily resulting from the maladjustment of everyone, men, women and children, to the human predicament. Every-thing in the world being subject to the law of change, the inability of the humans to cope with this change brings about dissatisfaction, frustration and bitterness in the human mind. The Buddhist analysis of this highlights three basic characteristics of the phenomenal world, viz. 1.constant change and transiency or anicca, 2, dissatisfaction or dukkha resulting from the human inability to cope with this basic characteristic, and 3. the consequent awareness that must come about that humans have no mastery or command over what happens through nature's own way or anatta.
Even in the midst of such a world, a person of good judgement takes a balanced view of the changing nature of the world and is reconciled to it. Such restraint in grabbing at things of the world gives one a great deal of peace and calm : upasanto sukham seti.
9 Tilakkhana or The
Tilkkhana [= the three characteristics] in brief is the summing up of the total Buddhist viewpoint with regard to our relationship to the world in which we live. It invariably becomes a cultivated and cultured relationship which is in conformity with our world vision. There are three things to remember. The awareness of the impermanence of things of the world, together with a sensitivity to the stresses and strains it brings upon human life, and coupled finally with the need to reject the mistaken notion of selfhood which hangs all along like a mill-stone round one's neck. A Buddhist has to unequivocally take up this stand. It is undoubtedly the launch-pad from which worldlings have to fire themselves off in their flight to Nirvana.
10 Towards Spiritual Growth : From
the First Steps.
The specific path to spiritual growth or liberation in Buddhism is termed the Noble Eightfold Way. It has necessarily to begin with a correctness of vision [sammâditthi]. Please note that this is not paññâ or wisdom of the Buddhist threefold training or tisso sikkhâ. One does this correction of vision by acquiring from a reliable authority the true scriptural tradition [parato ghoso] and dwelling upon it with diligent deliberation [yoniso manasikâro]. This immediately stresses the role of the individual in Budhism.
In the seven succeeding items of the Eightfold Path, each preceding one yields the following as is very clear from the Pali [Mahâcattârîsaka Sutta at M.N.III.p.76] which in natural succession says sammâditthissa sammâsankappo pahoti sammâsankappassa sammâvâcâ pahoti .. sammâsatissa sammâsamâdhi pahoti. Having thus completed the listing in the Eightfold Path, the Sutta proceeds thereafter to add the following two items : ñâna as No.9 [which is the equivalent of paññâ] and vimutti as No.10 in order to complete the process of finally reaching one's liberation in Nirvana. Thus the text runs : sammâsamâdhissa sammâñânm pahoti sammâñânassa sammâvimutti pahoti.Ibid. The arahant is said to go through these ten stages to reach his final goal.
12. Buddha as Master : Historical and extra-historical [ Time and Space wise ]